Playwright and director Thomas (Mark Alhadeff) has just ended a frustrating day of auditions, trying to find the woman to play "Venus" in his adaptation of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s novel "Venus in Furs." It is a stormy day outside the rehearsal studio but the storm outside has nothing on the hurricane that is about to enter the rehearsal room when Vanda (Jenni Putney) shows up. Thomas' first impression of Vanda is that she is just like every other girl he's auditioned all day- all form and no substance, believing that the play is all about S&M and sex since the word masochism comes from Sacher-Masoch's name, but Vanda soon shows there is more beneath her exterior than Thomas can only begin to imagine. The two begin a cat and mouse game all about seduction and domination where roles are frequently reversed and one never really knows what is real and what is not.
|Jenni Putney and Mark Alhadeff|
Putney as Vanda gets the more juicer role to play, or roles in this case since she not only at first comes across as clueless, tough and extremely vocal but once she begins to audition she becomes someone else entirely different. Putney's ability to transition easily between these two "roles" as the audition process goes forward and the scenes are broken up between audition moments and a discussion between Thomas and Vanda about the play, sex and Thomas' personal life, is especially refreshing. Putney easily gets across a clear distinction between these two characters and is an outright hoot as Vanda the actress. Alhadeff was the understudy for Thomas in the Broadway run of the show last year so while he might have more experience with his part than Putney, his is the more "weaker" of the two roles and less forceful, so the fact that he comes across as more subservient is what I believe Ives had envisioned. We saw one of the first previews of the show and while there was some chemistry between the two actors, I'd expect there to be more as they get more performances into the run.
|Jenni Putney and Mark Alhadeff|
Direction by Kip Fagan is nuanced and light, but also forceful and direct when necessary. And while Alhadeff and Putney are fine for the parts, with each more than able to handle their own in the often changing roles the two play of dominant and submissive, there is far too much shift in tone that happens too abruptly and too many unanswered questions. Does Vanda have a pre-conceived plan or agenda? Does she already know who Thomas is before she enters the room or is she just a very quick study? Is Thomas' play autobiographical? The answers to these questions are all left up to the audience to decide which makes the play ultimately unsatisfying in the end. It is an intriguing work but one that wears thin, and considering it is a one act play that runs just over 90 minutes that means it gets old really fast. At first we're interested to know exactly what is going to happen to these two characters and exactly what Vanda's plan is, but with so many questions unanswered and a play that meanders on a bit too much, even though it is smartly written, I was happy when it was over.
Official George Street Playhouse Site
Interviews with Nina Arianda and Hugh Dancy who starred in the play on Broadway last year: